Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Cellmates and Soulmates

Nova Ren Suma writes a tale of guilt, innocence, rage, and cosmic balance in The Walls Around Us.

Cellmates and Soulmates
We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls--some of us fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen--but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.

BOOK REPORT for The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Cover Story: Salt the Earth
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Orange Is The New Black (Leotard)
Bonus Factors: Ballet, Juvie
Relationship Status: I’ll Help You Dig

Cover Story: Salt the Earth

Those are some seriously creepy vines there, and the way they twine around the letters definitely evokes a sense of being smothered and oppressed. It makes me want to salt the earth they grew in. I love this cover: simple, effective, and doesn’t pander.

I have to wonder what the cover would have looked like in lesser hands. It would have been so easy to go the “wicked ballerina” Black Swan route, or wispy mysterious girls in juvie, and I’m so glad they didn’t.

The Deal:

Orianna and Violet (“Vee”) are ballerinas, but now Orianna’s dead and Violet is the de facto best ballerina at her school. She’s terrified that someone will find out what really happened the night that Orianna stepped between Violet and some bullying ballerinas: Orianna ended up in juvie, and the bullies ended up dead.

Inside the juvenile detention center, there’s Amber: Orianna’s cellmate, an expert on the facility, who can’t even begin to remember what freedom feels like. Both Violet and Amber are connected to Orianna: one of them knows what happened the night Orianna was arrested, and one of them knows what happened the night Orianna died.

The Walls Around Us is a powerful, supernatural tale of guilt, innocence, and what happens when the cosmic scale is tipped.

BFF Charm: Nay

I was absolutely captivated by these characters, but I don’t think I’m about to sit down and braid Amber or Vee’s hair anytime soon.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

The only thing you’ll be swooning over is Nova Ren Suma’s writing.

Talky Talk: Orange is the New Black (Leotard)

This is the first Nova Ren Suma book I’ve read (I also read her excellent story in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys), and her prose just seethes with anger and rage and the primal fear of being trapped. She’s not afraid to let her female characters be ladylike and unlikeable, and there’s such an obsessive fury unfurling throughout the pages. These girls have been cheated by the justice system, by their friends, by their parents, by themselves, and their rage gives them power. They’re teenage girls who should be feared and adored, and who should be dismissed at one's own peril.

This was one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read, akin to the way I felt after reading Gone Girl: an eerie, exhilaratingly angry tour de force that feels like its own catharsis.  You don’t want to be in this story and you can’t sympathize with many of the characters, but there’s something so appealing about acknowledging that young women can be viciously angry, too.

“Violet.” I hate the way he says my name just now. He makes it sound like violent.

Bonus Factor: Ballet

Fans of Black Swan will love the description of ballet, and how its natural obsession with perfection feeds the fury of the characters.

Bonus Factor: Juvie

Similarly, fans of Orange is the New Black will enjoy the description of court and the female juvenile detention center (as much as you can love a facility that locks up kids and doesn’t give them the tools to be productive adults if and when they get out). I don’t read much YA that deals with juvie, and as a former criminal defense lawyer, I enjoyed that Suma didn’t sugarcoat it.

Casting Call:

Jeanine Mason as Orianna

Julia Goldani Telles as Violet

Continuing the Bunheads theme, we know Julia can do perfectionistic ice queen perfectly. I don’t recall whether Violet was physically described beyond her strength and neatness of appearance, though.

Relationship Status: I’ll Help You Dig

Book, I had a feeling you and I were going to get along, but I didn’t know how intensely I’d feel about you until we were standing over some incriminating evidence and you were handing me a shovel. I’ll help you dig, and then we’ll never speak of this again (until I start singing your praises to someone else).

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Algonquin. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one.  The Walls Around Us is available now.

The Walls Around Us is the FYA Book Club Selection for October 2018!

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, and thrifts for vintage everything.